Confidential to Governor KrispyKreme: Uh, you do know, governor, that THERE WAS NO TRAFFIC STUDY?
"I don't know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study."
-- New Jersey Gov. Kris KrispyKreme,
at his press conference yesterday
at his press conference yesterday
I wrote most of this post yesterday, then decided to hold my peace. (Howie covered this ground in his late post last night.) Today maybe not so much. Everyone is on poor Governor Krispykreme's case, and rightfully so, it seems to me, especially given how long it took the infotainment noozmedia to pay any heed to the story. What would have happened if the KrispyKreme Kronies hadn't been so loquacious in their e-mails?
But the same things that were nagging me yesterday are still nagging me today. It's not just the suspicion I share with just about everyone in the known world that the governor was doing a fair amount of fibbing in his curious press conference (as you know, in this department we take it as an article of faith that, absent proof to the contrary, every word out of the mouth of every Republican is a lie). It's more that he seems to be operating in a sort of alternate reality. Again, so is the whole of the modern-day American Right Wing. Stil . . . .
The first message I wanted to send to the governor, was just five words, which he might want to repeat after me. To wit:
There. Was. No. Traffic. Study.
Try to just get this whole traffic-study silliness out of your head, Guv, because it seems to be twisting all your brain circuits into confetti. There was no traffic study.
I didn't see the nearly-two-hour extravaganza myself, but I've been reading about it, and my takeaway is that "traffic study" is going to be the 2014 version of "hiking the Appalachian trail." I gather that the imaginary "traffic study" -- which is to say the one that was not conducted by anybody connected to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- figured prominently in the Krispyman's piece of performance art yesterday.
This is the "traffic study," you'll recall, that was invented by KrispyKreme kronies in the upper ranks of the PANYNJ as cover for the closing of three entrance lanes onto the George Washington Bridge as retribution by the New Jersey Governor's Office -- if not, just possibly, by the governor himself -- on uppity Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Or rather on the citizens of Fort Lee and many others caught in the resulting outward-spiraling traffic jams, as punishment for the mayor's weasely refusal to say either yes or no to the KrispyKreme Reelection Kampaign's suggestion that the Democratic mayor endorse the Republican governor.
Mayor Sokolich, by the way, has carefully explained that he never did say no. He just took great pains not to say yes. Apparently, though, you couldn't fool the KrispyKreme Kampaign, which seems to have intuited the message that if you're not with us, you're against us.
Here is the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri on the subject of the governor and traffic studies, one of her three favorite themes from the governor's, er, performance:
"I don't know whether this was a traffic study that then morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study,” Christie actually said at one point. . . .I'm not going to go back over the history of this squalid affair. If you need brushing up on any aspect of it, ThinkProgress's "Progress Report" yesterday helpfully gathered "10 Must-Read Stories On The Christie Bridge Scandal," and I'll leave it to you, on the honor system, to polish off all ten. One fact of life you will come away with is that there was no traffic study. (Since yesterday, the quantity of reading material will have expanded exponentially.)
The presser went on to develop into an elaborate vendetta against traffic studies or traffic study against vendettas, or whatever the appropriate terminology is. "I don't know what makes a legitimate traffic study. It's not my area of expertise. And so I wouldn't have a nose for that. I just wouldn't. I don't know what makes a legitimate traffic study.” No one ever saw the day when Chris Christie would have to stand in front of the people of New Jersey insisting he did not know how traffic studies worked. "I've been told that sometimes they're done live, sometimes they're done by computer model. I've heard that in the professionals who've testified for the Port Authority. But you'd have to go to them to ask them what a legitimate traffic study is. I probably wouldn't know a traffic study if I tripped over it.” Or if hundreds of commuters did.
"I don't know whether -- like I said -- I think I answered this before -- I don't know whether this was some type of rogue political operation that morphed into a traffic study or a traffic study that morphed into an additional rogue political -- I don't know.” It's not just vendettas any more. They could be anything! Your neighbor could be a traffic study!
All Christie knows is that now he is firmly opposed to traffic studies. "Listen. You think I'm suggesting any traffic studies anytime soon?. . . I think I'm out of the traffic study business for certain, never really in it and definitely don't want to be in it.”
I think you'll enjoy Ms. Petri's other two takeaways from yesterday's festivities, which come closer to my own discomforts than most of the other commentaries I've read.
No. 2 is that "Chris Christie Has a Lot of Feelings." Or, if I may be so bold as to correct this, based on Ms. Petri's own reporting: Chris Has One Feeling -- Sad -- a Whole Lot." You really should look at her compendium of some of the kajillion times the governor told us how sad he is. ("Very," in case you were wondering.)
And No. 3 is "Who Are Any of These People?" "Another emergent theme of the press conference," Ms. Petri writes, "was that Christie was more sinned against than sinning, and that some of the people involved (cough, David Wildstein, uncough) who claimed to be friends from his school days were total losers whom he did not remember at all." Among the names the governor barely recognizes is this Mark Sokolich fellow -- sometimes known to the KrispyKreme kronies as "the little Serbian."
By the way, I know that the KKs have taken no little heat for their inability to distinguish between Serbs and Croats (Mayor Sokolich is in fact of Croatian descent). This is, of course, of enormous moment to all people of either Serbian or Croatian lineage, but given the well-documented geographical cluelessness of most Americans, getting that close seems to me almost a "win" for the KKs. I think it's fair to see this glass as half full.
BUT I KID . . .
Howie wondered day before yesterday whether Governor KrispyKreme was on the verge of resigning, and it still seems to me an eminently sensible course of action for the Krispyman.
It's hard to believe that the Bridge Scandal is going to go away quickly, even though I can think of one possible reason to believe that the governor may not be lying when he says he had no direct knowledge of what his minions were doing, and that is what he referred to as the "abject stupidity" of what they were doing. I mean, what's the point of punishing people if they don't know they're being punished? Oh, plenty of suffering was inflicted, but neither Mayor Sokolich nor the people caught in those traffic nightmares had any reason to suspect that they were suffering for the sins of the mayor. The mayor himself doesn't seem to have believed it until the smoking e-mails turned up.
And beyond the specifics of the Bridge Scandal, there's the potentitally immense "tip of the iceberg" problem. The pundits are discussing it so far in terms of how the revived "bully" image may hurt Governor KrispyKreme's presidential prospects. I say this is only the tip of the tip of the iceberg, particularly since I never though he had any presidential prospects.
More to the point is the danger to the Krispyman that evidence may begin to turn up of the larger pattern of bullying and corruption (don't forget the corruption) that have been part and parcel of the whole KrispyKreme administration in Trenton, and for that matter the KrispyKreme management of the U.S. attorney's office, where he was installed, after all, by Karl Rove, the modern-day godfather of political bullying.
ONE LAST THING: ABOUT THE GOVERNOR'S
IDEA OF ACCEPTING "RESPONSIBILITY"
The governor made a great show of announcing that even though he had nothing to do with the, um, thing that apparently was only sort of a traffic study, nevertheless he as the governor he is responsible. I wonder if he could perhaps clarify what in his mind "responsibility" consists of.
Yes, he fired the deputy chief of staff who who had the bad luck to be named in those dreadfully embarrassing e-mails. And he sent another person, said to be one of his closest advisers, into the wilderness. These were both people said to be extremely closely to the governor -- as were, for that matter, those schlepps Baroni and Wildstein, appointed by the governor to the Port Authority, who have already fallen on their swords. But let's take a closer look at this last case, the close adviser sent into the wilderness. This from a Washington Post report by Matea Gold and Robert Costa:
In Chris Christie's circle of advisers, few were as close to the governor as Bill Stepien. He managed both of the New Jersey Republican's winning campaigns for governor, helped shape Christie's tough-guy-on-your-side image and was expected to take a top role in an eventual White House bid.Um, excuse me, Steve? Apparently this reads to you as "accountability." To me it looks an awful lot like scapegoating.
But when Christie cut him loose Wednesday evening, the governor didn't so much as speak to him.
Christie's decision to oust Stepien and another top adviser implicated in the burgeoning scandal over George Washington Bridge lane closures demonstrated the blunt force that Christie is willing to use to contain a crisis, even if it means exiling members of his innermost circle.
It also showed how personal politics is for the governor. Christie expressed far more anger Thursday about his aides lying to him than about how they abused their power to cause days of traffic jams.
The removal of Stepien, in particular, stunned some New Jersey political insiders, who said the strategist has provided important counsel to Christie on both politics and policy.
"Bill has been loyal to Chris Christie for many years, and I think having to push him out was difficult for Chris, both professionally and emotionally," said former New Jersey governor Tom Kean Sr. (R), a longtime Christie associate.
"Bill Stepien was more than just another adviser," Kean said. "He was the key person who carried out what the governor wanted. He spoke with Christie's authority, and anyone who has dealt with him knows that."
Christie's abrupt dismissal of top aides was praised Wednesday by some Republicans, who said his decisiveness stood in contrast to President Obama's handling of controversies such as the botched rollout of his health-care Web site and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny.
"This will be, at the end of the day, a political benefit to Chris Christie," said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt. "This sends a very clear signal: If you screw up, you violate the public trust, there's not going to be an exercise in wagon-circling -- there's going to be an exercise in accountability."
To-MAY-to/to-MAH-to? Maybe, but it's still not at all clear to me what Governor Krispykreme means when he says he takes responsiblity. All I'm seeing so far is the governor blaming anyone he can find within finger-pointing range.